Gaza: Testimonies highlight grim plight of civilians expecting to die
The UN’s top human rights official issued a new appeal on Friday for an end to the Israel-Palestine crisis and the release of all hostages, amid rising civilian deaths and reports that children's names have been written on their arms so that they can be identified in case they die in the rubble.
Volker Türk’s appeal came as UN humanitarians continued to issue dire warnings about the full scale of the humanitarian crisis in the enclave.
‘Crumbs’ of aid
The head of the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA), said that the “few (aid) trucks” which have come in from Egypt since 21 October are “nothing more than crumbs that will not make a difference for two million people”.
“What is needed is meaningful and uninterrupted aid flow. To succeed we need a humanitarian ceasefire to ensure this aid reaches those in need,” he insisted.
UN human rights office (OHCHR) Spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani told journalists in Geneva about the “harrowing testimonies” of parents writing children’s names on their arms to be able to identify their remains.
Staff on the ground tell her that each night they make calculations on whether to sleep in the open or indoors, weighing the risks of being killed by a falling ceiling or shrapnel.
A living ‘nightmare’
UN World Food Programme (WFP) Representative in Palestine Samer Abdeljaber said that people in Gaza described the situation as a “nightmare – and we have no way to wake up from it”. He highlighted the dire conditions in UNRWA-designated shelters which are almost three times over capacity.
“In the room the size of a classroom 70 people sleep, eat, drink and take care of their families”, he said, and there are eight toilets for 25,000 people.
Speaking from Jerusalem, the UN’s top humanitarian official in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Lynn Hastings, stressed that “all humanitarian assistance and humanitarian issues have to be unconditional”.
The 224 hostages held in Gaza need to be released “immediately and unconditionally”, she said, reiterating calls from the UN chief António Guterres.
Humanitarian aid also has to be able to reach people in Gaza “unconditionally”, she said.
Ms. Hastings highlighted the “terrible choices” which the aid community is confronted with, given the very small trickle of aid that has been coming in, the fuel shortage and the security situation.
She deplored the need for humanitarians to decide “which communities do you send the items to, which bakeries, which desalination plant should be turned on or off, which hospital do you send medication to”.
Services collapse due to fuel crisis
Ms. Hastings said that in normal times more than 780 trucks with fuel would have crossed into Gaza since 7 October. In the absence of deliveries UNRWA has been relying on a sole fuel pump situated close to the Rafah border but access has been “sporadic” and supplies were dwindling very fast.
Forced to ration fuel, bakeries in the Strip will only be able to bake bread for a million people for another 11 days, Ms. Hastings warned, while UNRWA warned that some are already going hungry.
WFP’s Samer Abdeljaber said that only two WFP-contracted bakeries are working, compared to 23 at the start of the operation.
Fuel is also critical for to power water desalination plants so that they can produce drinking water, and pumping stations.
Ms. Hastings flagged that with sanitation backed up, raw sewage is being pumped into the sea in Gaza but once fuel runs out, “whether it’s tomorrow or Monday”, sewage pumping will become impossible and wastewater will be “overflowing in the streets”.
Babies in incubators at risk
Dr. Richard Peeperkorn, UN health agency (WHO) representative in the occupied Palestinian territory told journalists that a minimum of 94,000 litres of fuel per day are needed to “keep critical functions running” at 12 major hospitals in Gaza.
Two in three hospitals in the enclave are “partially functional” Dr. Peeperkorn said. He underscored that power and medical supplies shortages were putting at risk 1,000 kidney patients in need of dialysis, 130 premature babies in incubators, 2,000 cancer patients and scores of others on ventilators in intensive care units.
Aid ‘a drop in the ocean’
Humanitarians stressed that the lack of fuel is also compromising the ability of aid trucks entering through the Rafah crossing to distribute the supplies across Gaza.
Ms. Hastings underscored the difficulty in getting aid to the north, which is under evacuation orders, but has seen displaced people move back from the south due to airstrikes and “untenable” living conditions there.
She also reiterated that the 74 aid trucks which have been allowed in through Rafah since 21 October, with another eight or so expected today, were very little compared to the 450 trucks entering Gaza daily prior to the crisis – “a drop in the ocean”, according to WHO’s Dr. Peeperkorn.
WFP’s Samer Abdeljaber said that his agency has only been able to bring in under two per cent of the food required. WFP has delivered fresh bread and canned tuna to half a million people in shelters in Gaza but “for every person receiving assistance, six more are in need”.
Some 39 WFP trucks are at or near the Egyptian border with Gaza awaiting entry, Mr. Abdeljaber said, and other agencies have also pre-positioned supplies there.
If sustained access and fuel are granted, the agency plans to bring life-saving food to more than one million people within the next two months, he said.